Arts and Culture

When Comedian Chris Charpentier Leaves for LA, Denver Will Lose Not Just His Jokes, but His Distinctive Show Posters

For the next week at least, Chris Charpentier is one of the best joke writers in town. After that, he'll move to Los Angeles where he'll be one of the best joke writers in that town. A founding member of the Fine Gentleman's Club, Charpentier is widely known to delight audiences each week with new quips and hair flips at their Westword lauded showcase, Too Much Fun! or his costumed goofballery at Arguments & Grievances, but less widely known is his work behind the scenes creating the posters for both shows almost every month. Eschewing the blocky and uninspired norm, Charpentier's posters don't arrange comics' head shots into a wacky tableaux, or even necessarily depict human beings. Combining the whimsical freedom of a childhood doodle with the precision of his years spent working in design, Charpentier's posters have become emblematic of Denver's hand-drawn DIY aesthetic. Though Charpentier responded with characteristic modesty, Westword caught up with the comic to discuss his visual influences and his upcoming relocation to Los Angeles, as well as go over some of his favorite designs. 

Westword: So, who else besides you has subbed in to draw Too Much Fun! posters?

Chris Charpentier: Haley's done one, Kami Mahoney and so has this dude Jake Farley. That one is awesome.

My interviews are weirdly becoming the chronicles of people who are moving away. It seems like you and Haley have a plan in motion though, you've both been out there. I'd argue that you're kind of underserved by the sketch and improv communities here too. 

It's should be interesting. I'm super scared. Super-duper scared. I've never not had a job. I've had a full-time job since I was sixteen, so quitting leaves me with no idea what I'm going to do. Hopefully I'll do some more feature work for Josh Blue and make enough to pay my rent. I went to Orlando to open for him, and it was so much fun. I really like working with him a lot. Maybe I can do some temp work while I'm out there? It's all very scary. 

Do you think you're ready to headline more?

Headline a club? Maybe. I'd feel comfortable headlining a  B-Room somewhere, and doing 45 minutes for sure.

So it's more that you'd be worried about filling the seats rather than filling the stage time?

Yes. Right. I have no name; I have no credits. But opening for Josh has helped a lot as far as getting me in with clubs that I'd have no chance of getting into otherwise. And I'm getting seen by a shitload of people. He sold out four of the five shows he had at the Orlando Improv.

Those places are huge. Does that one look exactly like the one in Denver? It's amazing how similar they are.

It looks just like the one in Kansas City too, remember when we did that one?

Not my finest hour.

I think the only one that looks any different is the one in L.A. because it's older, but the rest of them are exactly the same. I did the one in L.A.  — the Sklar brothers got me on — a guest set on Sarah Silverman's show with a few other huge people. 

Oh shit.

I didn't even see her while I was there, because it was a two-hour show and she probably didn't show up until near the end. Because even though it's the Improv, everybody just does like ten minute sets. Anyway, I didn't realize at the time how lucky it was that I was getting to fucking do a set at the Hollywood Improv. Like, that may not ever happen again in my life! I didn't necessarily take it for granted, I just didn't know that it was this super special thing. And I didn't do that well. I did okay, but it wasn't my best.

It's still something that you can say you've done.

Absolutely. It's fucking cool. It's like Red Rocks. I didn't do very well there, but I don't need to tell people that! I got to perform at Red Rocks! That's all they need to know!

When did you start making the posters for the Too Much Fun! shows? 

The first poster that I made was for our two-year anniversary show. I remember that after I made it, I was talking to Sam and saying "I think I'm just going to start doing these every week because it's fun and it's easy." I didn't put too much effort into it and it was fun because I hadn't drawn in a long time. I kind of missed it. If you look back, the first couple that I did were pretty bad. 

They're all online somewhere, right?

Yeah, you can see all of them on my Facebook page. But they're all there. The two-year poster was good, but the next few after that were pretty poor. 

So when did you start...

...putting more effort into them?

Yeah, and developing kind of a visual style, a color scheme with these weird reoccurring themes?

Well, I think what really started doing it for me, actually, was looking at the show posters for the Meltdown in Los Angeles. The guys who designs those is named Dave Kloc. He's the fucking best. Basically, I'm ripping him off. I don't even want to compare myself to him actually, he's so good, it's amazing. He started out just as a fan going to shows at the Meltdown until he approached Jonah Ray about doing show posters. And they make real posters that they print out and sell. He did the cover art for Adam Cayton-Holland's new CD.

Oh, yeah, I've seen that. It looks like the cover of an emo album.

I could not agree more. It doesn't look like a comedy album, but hey, it looks great. 

So, what's you take away from that visually?

Looking at those made me realize you can just do your own art and then just add people's names to it. It doesn't need to look like a flyer. It can look like a show poster, like the old school '60s and '70s band posters that were kind of psychedelic. That's kind of coming back now too. There's a documentary called Just Like Being There about concert poster artists that just rules. They're doing it for bands, but it's basically the same thing. So looking at those and realizing that I could do that —especially looking at Dave's because he has so many— and then eventually it'd be like you mentioned, that I developed a style so that you could recognize it was me. You could see my personal touch on things, which is awesome. I feel a little silly saying that because I don't consider myself much of an artist. 

Did you ever think about selling them? Because usually, you just upload them to Facebook on the day of the show. Do you just make one or two prints?

Not even. I don't make any prints. I scan from the original drawing. I have the originals and that's it. I was actually just talking about how I think I might sell them. Just kind of have a blowout before I move, see if anyone wants to buy them. I assume its going to be mostly comedians buying posters with their own names, but that's fine.

If you're only selling the originals, you could probably get people to bid on them.

Maybe, I don't know. But I'd feel weird because some of them aren't very good and the with the best one, I kind of don't want to sell those. I have a real problem with, not necessarily selling the art, but with not having it in my possession anymore. I do have a few that I've given away already.

Part of the reason I wanted to do this interview was so they'd be saved somewhere. Not that it's back-breaking labor, necessarily, but you put in the work on those week after week and it became a tradition of the show. Also: most comedy posters suck.

Sometimes it is back-breaking. Like I said, I don't consider myself much of an artist. I love doing it, but I know that there are a ton of people who are a thousand times more talented than I am. I just enjoy doing them. It's given me a reason to draw again. I know that some of them aren't very good, but I also know that I don't have enough time to re-do them. I do them all by hand, I don't do anything on the computer. 

Don't you usually learn the lineup the day of of the show too?

Yes, usually the day of. There's usually changes up until the last minute, which is why it doesn't get made until Wednesday. Sometimes, I'll do the drawing and have it ready and then just add the names, but that's rare. 

Too Much Fun! has had some really high-profile secret guests. Do you have anything on the poster to help you remember which shows had the drop-ins?

No, I really blew it. I should have kept some sort of record on who these guests were, or the shows when people dropped in. I don't remember the poster for the show when Dave Chapelle was there, which is a bummer.

Who else was on that night?

I don't remember! How could you remember? I remember that I was there and that Dave Chapelle was there. That's it. 

I guess you wouldn't pause in the middle of something like that to take note.

At the beginning, like I said, it just seemed like a reason for me to get to draw. They weren't really even much for promotion because they're only getting posted the day of. But now, the fact that I've been doing them for two years makes them pretty cool. There's a shitload of them. 

In general, comedy posters sort of bum me out. There's a lot of photoshopping giant heads onto tiny bodies. 

Well, they're done with some Internet template like 90 percent of the time. Lots of old-school microphones on fire, and a spot for everyone's head shot. I hate them. They're very generic and boring. I really dislike them.

I think your eye instinctively looks away from them. Like you file it into the 'ignore this bit of advertising' file in your brain.

Exactly. It looks like a wedding DJ's promotion. Like no matter how good the show is, it looks like it's going to be held at some shitty tavern in Arvada. I'm always interested to know how much of a return it really has, though. How much it really matters. Like when you asked to do this interview, it was flattering; it's flattering whenever someone gives me a compliment about the posters. But I don't really know how much people are into them, if at all. Sometimes, I feel like I'm just doing these for me, which is totally fine. 

But the poster's part of the tradition now. Checking for the poster each Wednesday to find out who's on is part of it. I've found out that I was on the show from seeing my name on the poster before. 

This is true. I've heard out-of-town people say that they couldn't wait to be on one of these posters. Which is super-flattering to hear from someone from out of town. Again, I think it's mostly comedians who care, but hey; I'll take it. I'm glad they appreciate it. Any sort of recognition from your peers is awesome. I think there' some sort of weird revival for all kinds of unique, arty stuff right now. Vinyl is coming back. People are making vinyl comedy albums even though it's really stupid. Because nobody buys them! Other comedians thinking about recording a vinyl album, don't waste your money. Make t-shirts and sell those t-shirts. 

I saved a big stack of those from my car when it caught fire because Sam had left them in there after failing to sell them at a show. When I told him, he said "you should have just let them burn." 

Oh shit, that's perfect. 

So, before we wrap up, do you know what the plan is with Too Much Fun! after you move?

They're going to continue just the same, only I won't be there. I don't think they're going to find a replacement, as far as I know, at least. That was the early decision. It might change. What I don't know if what they're going to do about the posters. I think the crowd is going to show up anyway.

Charpentier will be performing a ha-ha-hatrick of Denver's three best comedy shows this Sunday night. First, he'll slam chuckles off the turnbuckles at
Lucha Libre & Laughs (Westword's Best Comedy Show of 2015) at 7 p.m., followed by a headlining set at Propaganda! (Westword's Best Comedy Show of 2014) at 8 p.m.; then he'll cap off the evening off with the headlining debate Life vs. Death against Aaron Urist at Arguments & Grievances (Westword's Best Comedy Show of 2013) at 10. Admission to each show is free.
Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.